A rambunctious 3-year-old boy from Iraq is happily settling into San Francisco life as he prepares for cochlear implant surgery to allow him to hear and talk again.
Mustafa Ghazwan lives with his parents and younger brother in Baquba, Iraq. On June 12, 2007, a U.S. jet fired a missile into a building next door and the explosion left the boy deaf. He was just learning to speak at the time, but hasn't been able to say anything since. His parents have said Mustafa grew increasingly frustrated by his deafness, banging his head against walls and floors.
The story came to the attention of Cole Miller, a Los Angeles writer and founder of No More Victims, a program to bring Iraqi children injured in the war to the United States for medical care.
"These are the kinds of human stories that are behind the missiles that fall," Miller said.
He has volunteers in Iraq who find injured children and match them with communities in the United States that are willing to raise enough money to pay for the trip and provide free medical care.
He found gold in the Bay Area in the form of an eclectic array of people - including peace activists in Marin who helped raise $30,000 to fund the trip, doctors at UC San Francisco who will provide free medical care and a dozen families originally from Iraq who are pitching in to translate.
"It's just amazing how this community has come together," said Amy Skewes-Cox, a Ross resident and member of the Ruth Group, a group of peace activists who worked with No More Victims to raise the money to bring Mustafa to the Bay Area. "It showed me how compassionate people can be and how people really want to amend the damages done by the war."
Mustafa and his father, Ghazwan al-Nidawi, a 33-year-old professor of media studies at Baghdad University, arrived earlier this week and are staying at the Ronald McDonald House on Scott Street for free.
On Jan. 16, Dr. Lawrence Lustig, director of the UCSF Douglas Grant Cochlear Implant Center, will perform surgery on Mustafa to install a cochlear implant, a prosthetic device that allows deaf people to process sound. The boy will then have about four to six months of follow-up care, including speech therapy.
Mustafa seems to be adapting just fine, in part due to the room full of toys at the Ronald McDonald House.
"We kept trying to feed him rice and he wouldn't touch the food," said Skewes-Cox, who's spent time with him there. "He just wanted to play with the train set and the bears and the coloring set. He's just such a happy little guy."